The Best Darn Cheesecake You’ll Ever Have

Mama’s made her 1st Cheesecake (hey, we’ve gotta have our own milestones, too, right?)!

Cooling, all pretty and stuff 🤤

I won’t bore you with a lot of jibber jabber about how this recipe is a family secret and Grandma Mae used to make it every year (I don’t even have a Grandma Mae, and I concocted this recipe from a few different ones on Internet). But I will tell you this is the perfect seasonal dessert to bring to *any* gathering or eat all by yourself in one sitting. Either way, it’s divine.

This whole process is super simple and family-friendly for the kitchen, but it does take about 7-10 hours from start to finish. Just a heads up that this miiiiight be the perfect winter break activity to do with your kids ALL DAY LONG. So, preheat your oven to 350 now, so you don’t forget later 😜

Interior shot of the best darn cheesecake ever

Crust:

1 3/4 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 15 full crackers)

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large bowl mix the graham cracker crumbs, butter, granulated sugar, and salt together evenly. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of 9-inch springform pan (or a thin, pre-made pie pan if that’s what you have – it’s what I worked with!)

Pre-baked apples

Apple Filling:

4 apples (peeled & sliced)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup water or apple juice

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp sea salt

1/3 cup sugar

Mix it all up, and bake at 350 until desired softness and juices have turned into a thicker syrup like consistency.

Cheesy coconut filing:

16 ounces of Cream Cheese, room temperature (I prefer whipped cream cheese for a lighter, fluffier cake)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup coconut milk, room temperature

1 teaspoons vanilla

1.5 eggs, room temperature

Mix cheese and sugar at a medium speed with a flat mixing spoon or mixer attachment. Then lightly beat in the rest of the ingredients.

Ready to bake!

When the apples are done, bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Set the cooled apples in the bottom of the pie pan, then cover with the cheesecake mixture. Make sure the bottom of the cheesecake pan is tightly sealed, then place it in a larger, deeper pan of hot water (so that the water never actually touches the pie tin, and only surrounds it).

Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes or until top has become a slight golden color. Take it out and cool it for an hour. After it’s cooled, tightly wrap it and place it in the fridge for anywhere from 6 hours to the whole night to set. Then ENJOY because this is the best cheesecake you’ll ever have 🤤

Hubby’s serving suggestion

I <3 NY

I’m not really sure why I planned a trip to NY with two kiddos, but I did. I’m also not quite sure why we didn’t cancel and reroute ourselves to Mexico, but we didn’t. And hey, we still survived!

No joke, Manhattan is quite an endeavor with little ones, but it’s also a veritable playground. And when done correctly, with a native New Yorker’s finesse, it can be quite a thrilling vacation! So, thank you to those who helped me plan our 2018 family adventure – you know who you are, but I’ll mention a few of you below, anyway. Without you I’m not sure we would have made it through so many subway rides and days away from home 😂 (this So Cal suburbs Mama is jk, but only partially)

Tips

• Take the subway, but only if you’re not using a stroller or have a super collapsible one. Many subway station stops don’t have elevators, and if they have an escalator, it may not be working. You’ll save a lot of money on the subway vs. cabs, but keep it light while traveling around or it becomes a struggle.

• Select a hotel that is central to much of what you want to see; this will cut transit costs and time. If you need a suggestion, I was blown away by the Affinia Garden Suites and will be suggesting it to anyone looking for an intimate yet spacious experience in Manhattan!

• Talk to friends who have lived or still live there before heading to the city. They’ll know the ins and outs of getting around, the best dining gems, and how to get the cheapest tickets. Speaking of…

• Krysten of Krysten’s Kitchen told me about the TKTS Discount Booths that sell theater tickets at 50% and more. All you have to do is hop in line about twenty minutes before the booth opens (2 PM EST), and snag the tickets you want! Hint: if you bring your receipt back the next day to get more tickets, you will be put in a fast pass line. I would say you should def not leave the city without seeing a show, and I always love a discount!

• The food in New York can be hit or miss. With the city’s sheer number of options there are bound to be some mediocre ones. It takes the tongue of a native or a well-traveled lover of New York to really know where to go. Like cousin Brad’s idea to go to The Smith – I’m already planning to go back for brunch to try more grub next time we are in town. I’ll definitely head back to JJ Coopers for live music and another prime rib sandwich. I’ll also return for a marg and mariscos at Hell’s Kitchen. And I’ll be sure to dine at as many places on The Spotted Cloth‘s NY Foodie list as possible, because they know good grub.

• If you’d like to head out of Manhattan and see more of New York, the Staten Island Ferry is a great free option for travel. Hop on next to Battery Park and take it to Staten Island, even snag a fabulous view of the Statue of Liberty via the ferry windows. Just know it’ll take about forty minutes to wait/board/travel on the ferry (one way)

• Another great transit option is a tour bus like those from Top View Sightseeing – you can get on at the stop of your choice and get off whenever you’d like. Just know traffic in NY is very slow moving; carve out a large chunk of time if you’d like to see a lot of the city.

• Don’t hesitate to ask questions before planning for or leaving on your own trip! Feel free to message me, or comment below, if there’s something you’d like info about. And be sure to read below for some of my must-see stops while you’re in the city.

Must-Sees

Central Park – A haven amidst the city’s madness, CP is not to be missed. It’s got acres of greenery and views to die for, plus lots of fun things to do within its boundaries. You can literally spend a whole day here, and you’ll probably want to.

Intrepid Museum – a huge thank you to Scherrie of Thirty Mommy for letting me know about this Midtown gem. We spent hours weaving our way through decommissioned planes, an old submarine, and tons of hands-on airplane-related displays. My kids could not have been happier, and hubby was even more so. Check out Scherrie’s blog (linked above) for more NY activities for kids (and much more).

Museum of the City of New YorkWe stumbled upon this place (which goes to show some times you just have to go and explore without a plan), and got lost inside for hours. It was beautiful and captivating, and the hands-on children’s area was a bit of a saving grace after a long, hot day in Central Park. We will surely return to see the newest installments whenever we come back to the city. It was that special.

Museum of Natural History – This behemoth will suck you in for hours, but a trip is well worth it. I know, we are totally Museum people, but this place truly can be for everyone. It’s amazing, informative, and a total must-see.

Avenue QIf you’re not easily offended, and you’re also a bit of a musical fan (although you really don’t have to be), check out Avenue Q. It’s biting and hilarious, and will keep you on the edge of your seat even if the kiddos have kept you on your feet all day.

And finally, if you’re feeling brave and even want to escape Manhattan (unlike myself), I suggest you hop over to Nellie’s blog, Brooklyn Active Mama. She is always in the know of what’s going on in her neighborhood, and is happy to share the fun on her page. If I had possessed the confidence to roam to her neck of the woods, I probably would have had a whole other blog post to write. Phew. I’m exhausted all over again.

Btw, I really do ❤️ NY.

Kindergarten Bound, Smiles All Around

“How do you feel?”

“Are you sad?”

“Nervous at all?”

I’ve been asked the same question (or variations of it) umpteen times in the last couple weeks.

And my answer, for some reason, is always met with surprise.

“I’m excited!” I reply.

The responses containing the least amount of skepticism generally sound like, “Oh, really?”

“Yep, really.”

My question is, am I supposed to be sad? Surely, it’s OK to be sad; I understand where my friends and loved ones are coming from. I guess I’m just missing something.

Personally, the idea of my child officially embarking on her educational career is thrilling to me. I am the child of generations of school teachers. I love to learn. I see my daughter flourish when she is not stuck to my side and reliant on my help. I see her transform when she rises to life’s challenges.

But most importantly, I am being gifted the chance to be present to watch her struggles and triumphs. I am here for her entrance to school. We have each other as we embark on this transition, and for that I am thankful and excited and blessed.

So, no, we aren’t nervous. There are smiles all around over here (but let’s chat again when it’s time for college 🤐).

Best of luck to everyone going through a similar transition 💓

Lessons From Mom

As performed in the live show Expressing Motherhood in May and June of 2018

There are things our parents choose to do that stay with us forever. These actions, good or bad, teach us the lessons we carry into adulthood and especially parenthood.

Like the time my older brother found a wallet filled to the brim with cash. I was four and he was seven, but as children of a single mother in the eighties, we already knew the value of a dollar; Mom was never one to shelter us from our reality. I remember my brother handing her the leather square in the narrow aisles of a pharmacy. Mom had just tearfully admitted to the clerk she had only enough money for one antibiotic regimen, but two sick children. After she grew a bit sharp with her tongue, as she sometimes did, she was given back the prescription slip and turned away. Only moments later the Universe delivered her a wallet full of money.

I remember Mom looking around, then stuffing it deep underneath her arm in one swift movement. When we arrived home, she unearthed it from her purse, then began counting out the bills onto our hand-me-down coffee table. When she finished at just over a thousand dollars, she pulled out the Driver’s License within the plastic protectant and picked up the phone beside her. We waited with baited breath, unsure of what her next move would be.

“Operator? Yes. Can I please be connected with a ———– from Studio City?”

Moments later she was chatting with a very worried man who wanted to know the whereabouts of his wallet and missing mortgage payment. She offered him her work address and told him to pick it up the next day, but not before confirming how much dough he expected to be returned to him.

When she had replaced the receiver in its plastic cradle, my brother asked, “Why didn’t you return the wallet to the pharmacy if you weren’t going to take any of the money yourself?” To which she replied, “I don’t know if they would have returned it with everything inside. But, I knew I would. I don’t take what’s not mine, because that would be assuming we need it more.”

And at a very young age of four, I learned what my mom’s credo was: honesty must come before anything, including my own needs.

Speaking of Mom’s honesty, I’ll admit it wasn’t always my favorite. She had little filter, and people were often made uncomfortable by her. For example, she once wrote a letter that would be read to my entire sorority at a graduation-related event, which she knew when set out to write it. Despite this, she described in the note how I matured early, as well as that by the age of five, was already concerned whether I’d “get my period by college or not.” See? You’re uncomfortable. So, yeah, I didn’t always enjoy her openness.

But if Mom’s actions taught me anything it’s that the world needs honesty, even if people have trouble digesting it. There was the time she beat me to picking up the phone, and Corey Feldman was on the other line. At the age of seventeen I began running his website, and over the next four years would help him a great deal with local appearances. But, in this moment, he was my boss, and Mom was my very uncool parent who I obviously still lived with.

When Mom realized the gruff voice on the other end belonged to Corey, she was thrilled. She cooed,”Hey Corey! We actually just finished watching one of your films.” She hit the speaker phone and winked at me playfully.

“Oh, yeah?” he replied. “Which one?”

“Amy? What was it called?” Meanwhile, I have turned a ripe shade of red and was silently begging for the phone. But I whisper my reply nonetheless, “Edge of Honor.” She repeats me, and for a moment things seem O.K. because, hey, she hasn’t embarrassed me. It’s a miracle! Then she concludes, “You looked really drugged out in it.”

My heart fell into my stomach, and I instantly tasted bile. I held my breath as my recently exciting social life flashed before my eyes.

Corey waited a few beats. Finally, he replied, “Well, that’s because I was.” And with that, the floodgate opened. He talked about his difficult childhood and former addictions, and Mom listened. Just before Mom finally disengaged the speaker and handed me the phone, Corey asked her to attend an anniversary screening of The Goonies as his date. Much of the cast would be there, and he was inviting her to sit with them.

And, in all my years as one of Corey’s assistants, this would be the most Corey ever opened up. Thus, driving home Mom’s point that transparency is the most healing policy.

Mom’s emphasis on honesty was the most recurring lesson I ever received from her, and I suppose it is what led me to this point. To being a mother that strives to create children who are fair and thoughtful. And to pursuing a career that is intended to inspire mental health and a more accepting world. But, every parent leaves their children with indelible memories that turn into life lessons.

Maybe my children will be up here in a few decades talking about me, and with any luck, it’ll be positive. Maybe your children will be up here narrating what you did with your time as a parent. What will our actions teach our children? I wonder what sort of world they will create together with these lessons.”

To listen to this via Podcast, click here, but please pardon my opening night jitters.

Freckles & Perspective

She hunches over, furiously scribbling on the paper taped to the floor. It is there to catch excess paint from the ceiling, but the men have packed up for the day, and I see no harm in decorating the barely marred surface.

“Why not draw on the floor?” I had proposed when her tiny body got antsy after dinner and before bath.

I’m not sure any idea has ever sounded better. “I’m going to draw Daddy!” She proclaimed proudly. “He’s one hundred handsome,” Her voice tapers as she doodles and day dreams about the first man to steal her heart.

Moments pass, and I peer over her shoulder to see her work. Daddy’s rectangular body isn’t accurate, but it sure is adorable.

“Wow, great job,” I encourage her.

She smiles, “Thanks. Oh! I almost forgot.” The cap of the pink marker raps against her lips as she ponders aloud, “Does Daddy have freckles?”

“A couple, sure, but not too many,” I reply.

Chock full of gumption, she retorts, “Well, this is my drawing and I like making freckles. So, he’s gonna have a lot.”

Her arm works quickly as her marker dots the paper, and I cannot help but promote her artistic spirit, “There’s no arguing with that logic.”

“Don’t worry,” she adds, “I won’t give him as many freckles as you. You’ve got one million freckles.”

“True,” I once again agree.

“But, Savta Dasi (the Hebrew word for grandmother combined with my mom’s nickname) had INFINITY freckles. More freckles than anyone on the planet!” I watch her tiny face brighten as her reflections revive my mother’s memory. A silly grin spreads across my face.

In the midst of my grief, I have found my greatest sadness over memories Mom and I never got to make. I suppose that’s the biggest pain in all grief: time lost.

But, then life has this beautiful way of reminding you (even in conversations about freckles) that your ultimate merit is not found in how long you live, but how long your your sweet memory persists. For Mom will be gone eleven years this September, and my daughter only turned five in June.

It is moments like these that surely define our lives. That remind us it is less about how long we live, and more about the weight of our impact on the world. 💓

Reflection, not Resolution

So often we begin each new year with a laundry list of resolutions: lose weight, gain funds, eat less, exercise more, etc. And it’s a widespread joke that by February these steadfast decisions become nothing but empty promises and proof of failure.

Ironically enough though, resolution actually means “a firm decision to do or not do something.” It can also mean “the action of solving a problem.” In other words, we start each new trip around the sun ruminating on the previous year’s failures and binding ourselves to start fixing them as of the very first day of the year. No wonder why we all screw up. It’s too much pressure. If it was all that easy to fix our shortcomings don’t you think we’d change without resolving to do so?

So, here’s my proposal: forget resolutions. Instead, let us reflect. What can we learn from the past year? Think back on the time, revel in its joys and garner strength from their positivity. Then consider the downfalls, because there are even more lessons to be drawn from those. Finally, try to plan how you can employ those lessons in the next year.

See, the truly greatest gift of humanity is the ability to learn and see new perspectives. So, let us reflect and learn from our past, and then move on in to the new year with positivity. For it is our responsibility to live in the moment as much as possible, and it is a privilege to be happy doing so. Remember, the present is the surest thing we have, and it is painfully fleeting.

An Ode to Trader Joe’s Watermelon-Cucumber Juice

I’m a foodie to the nth degree, and when I find a new product I fall in love with – especially from super affordable Trader Joe’s – I want to shout it from the rooftops!

Instead, to avoid my neighbors trying to commit me, I hit up a Facebook group made for uber loyal TJ’s Moms like me. I posted about the juice that I had found and spontaneously mixed with some rosé after a hard day of Momming. The response was tremendous! People from all over the country chimed in about their favorite ways to use this insanely delicious nectar.

So, I drew some inspiration from my fellow TJ fanatics. I am dedicating a post to the three most delicious Watermelon Cucumber juice recipes I could come up with based on the group members’ awesome ideas. We’ve got a delicious drink, a fresh appetizer (yes, an app!), and a perfect summer-time dessert. Thanks again for the inspiration, ladies, and be sure to follow along for more!

 

IMG_8163

Super Summer Spritzer  – The perfect drink to serve at a summer BBQ!

  • 2 cups chardonnay of your choice
  • 2 cups of rose of your choice
  • 2 cups TJ’s Watermelon Cucumber Juice*
  • 1 cup lime flavored sparkling water
  • juice yielded from half a lime
  • chopped watermelon
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries

Mix non-carbonated liquid ingredients well then stir in sparkling water. Layer fruit and ice in glasses prepared to serve, then pour in liquid. Do not muddle. Serve immediately and enjoy!

*If you prefer a sweeter drink, add more juice! Also, if you prefer different wines, a prosecco would work lovely. Moscato (or those that are inherently sweeter) may make the drink too sweet… unless you don’t believe in such a thing!

 

 

IMG_8230

Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Summer Gazpacho – The perfect sweet, savory, and spicy kickstart to any meal!

Topped with a delicious basil oil:

  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Blend ingredients and set aside – don’t forget! This stuff makes the dish!

Gazpacho Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds coarsely chopped cored tomatoes
  • 1 pound coarsely chopped seedless watermelon
  • 3 cups large-dice crustless day-old sourdough
  • 1 1/2 cup TJ’s Watermelon & Cucumber juice
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon TJ’s Chili Lime Seasoning

Mix ingredients and allow them to sit for about fifteen minutes. Then, toss them in a blender incrementally until desired consistency. Top with basil oil. Serve cold!*

*Recommended serving: rim bowl with Trader Joe’s chili lime seasoning to ensure everyone will be licking their bowls clean!

 

 

IMG_8189

Homemade Watermelon Jell-O – Incredibly simple, yet very elegant*

  • 1 3/4 cups Watermelon Cucumber Juice, divided into two containers (1/4 cup and 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup boiled water
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • Chunks of diced watermelon (optional)

*Serving suggestion includes basil leaves and whipped cream

(“Blooming” directions taken from Detoxinista.com)

To begin, you’ll want to “bloom” the gelatin in a bit of cool or room-temperature fruit juice, to ensure a smooth and even end result. In a medium mixing bowl, sprinkle the tablespoon of gelatin over 1/4 cup of the fruit juice and whisk well until the mixture starts to thicken.

Once the mixture is nice and thick, pour the 1/4 cup of hot (just boiled) water over it, and whisk well to dissolve evenly. When the mixture is smooth, add in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of fruit juice, and mix well to combine.

Pour the mixture into small, single serving containers and place in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours. Top with two basil leaves and whipped cream, serve to the most delighted eaters ever!

The Best Gift to Give this Summer (I promise).

It’s the end of the school year and the summer holidays are approaching. You  know what that means, right? All the amazing Pinterest-y Moms will be at it full force. They’ve designed insane end-of-the-school-year presents like hand crafted paperweights made from real unicorn hairs. And that’s just so not me.

Im the one who loves to get creative, but really… I don’t have much time. So, this year – because my daughter’s teachers worked themselves into the ground with what sounded like a thousand three year olds all day every day, and put up with my neurotic antics all year long, I decided to encourage them to “‘Taco’ Load Off.” Yep, that’s right. As a way to celebrate the end of the school year, I am gifting my daughter’s preschool teacher a Taco Tuesday, complete with margaritas (alcohol optional).

The whole process took me one trip to Target and a few EBay purchases (because free shipping and buying in larger bulk, so I can make MANY of these awesome gifts over the summer!). Each gift cost me about $30 and did I mention it includes homemade taco seasoning?? Read below for the full list of items included (seasoning recipe, too), as well as links to score them!!

Taco Tuesday in a Tin Basket

wire basket (or container of your choosing)

1 gift card ($15-20 towards a store that would have fresh items such as meat, lettuce, taco shells)

1 seasoning shaker – taco seasoning recipe/shopping list below

2 plastic margarita glasses

1 cilantro growing kit

2 ready made mini-bottles of margarita (includes tequila)

1 50 mL bottle of tequila (optional)

 

Taco Seasoning

4 tablespoons cumin

4teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

IMG_7569
wrapping suggestion

Wrapping this beauty up doesn’t have to be fancy – the important thing is that you’re giving someone tequila and tacos – how could you go wrong? I’d say a simple cellophane wrapper and a cute gift tag is all you need! A cute play on words like “Taco Load Off” or a phrase like “Taco Break!” will help tie everything together. Happy gifting(and summer)! Be sure to follow along for more summer fun, travel tips, recipes, and more!